As many of you know, the United Methodist Church has been embroiled in a decades-long debate about human sexuality. It culminated the end of February with a meeting of The General Conference, the global legislative body of our church. They debated several plans, seeking to once and for all put an end to our division.
On February 26, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church passed the Traditional Plan. This plan retains and tightens restrictive language around homosexuality. Clergy who officiate at gay marriages, and Annual Conferences which ordain and appoint gay clergy face steeper penalties. This plan passed, even though the Judicial Council (our version of a Supreme Court) had ruled portions of it unconstitutional.
What does this mean? Certainly, it means that the debate continues at an even deeper level. It will take time to determine what the Traditional Plan can do given the portions already ruled unconstitutional.
Furthermore, large portions of our church, especially in the Western Jurisdiction (the 13 western states of the US) strongly disagree with this plan. Donna Pritchard, the head of the Western Jurisdiction delegation to General Conference and senior pastor at Portland First UMC, issued the following statement:
“We have long appreciated the richness of the global diversity of our United Methodist Church and have embraced opportunities to join with you all in the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world. We also understand the purpose of the Church to be in mission and ministry. Consequently, we in the West have been functioning for years as One Church committed to full inclusion, seeking to be a home for all God’s people.
“Today we acknowledge the fracture of this body, yet we worship a God who tells us that the body of Christ has many parts, all equally valued. Rooted in Wesleyan tradition, grounded in Scripture and committed to mission and ministry, the Western Jurisdiction intends to continue to be one church, fully inclusive and open to all God’s children, across the theological and social spectrum.
“We know from experience we are stronger when we live together as progressives, traditionalists and centrists in our Church. Many times during this Conference we have sung or prayed or blessed each other with the reminder that we need each other. Thank you.
In two weeks, the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction will meet. We want to be clear that the leadership of the Western Jurisdiction believes in one church for all. Mission and ministry are too important. This is where we stand, we are not moving, we are not leaving and we are not changing.”
What does this all mean for Mill Plain United Methodist Church? As a congregation, we have never taken a stand on homosexuality. I’m pretty sure that our congregation contains a continuum of opinions, from those who believe that homosexuality is a sin and cannot be condoned to those who believe that a same-sex orientation is very different from the Biblical passages cited against homosexuality. This end of the continuum is more comfortable with both gay marriage and gay clergy. I hope we can all affirm that God loves all people, calls all people and embraces all people.
For the time being, nothing much will change at Mill Plain. We will continue to come together to praise God, to love Jesus and each other. We’ll continue to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate children and learn together. We will continue to praise God. We’ll continue to use the name United Methodist. We will continue to open our doors to any who wish to worship with us.
In coming days and weeks, as the Western Jurisdiction leadership meets, we may face other questions. It seems probable that the Western Jurisdiction will challenge the decision of the General Conference in some way. I go back to Rev. Pritchard’s final words: “we are stronger when we live together…. we need each other.”